Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need.
— Caraka

What is Ayurveda

The word Ayurveda translates to the knowledge (Veda) of Life (Ayu). Ayurveda is the knowledge that guides us to lead a long and healthy life. Ayurveda is the science which helps one understand what is beneficial and necessary to lead a happy, healthy and long life and what things should be avoided in order to prevent disease and ill health. The principle aim of Ayurveda is to help one lead a healthy life and to prevent illness.

 

Doshas

The three doshas form the very basis of existence of the body according to Ayurveda. The dosha possess the capacity to impair the normal state of other bodily elements (the dhātu, upadhātu and the mala) in the body. The dosha, in their balanced state, are responsible for sustenance of life and the normal functioning of the body.

  • Vāta - regarded as the most important of the three doshas. If it is left unbalanced it will cause the other doshas to become imbalanced. Its roles in the body All eliminations: fetus, semen, feces, urine, and sweat.

    • Assists with metabolisms in the body (Agni), transformation of tissues.

    • Controls movement in body (mental and physical) such as respiration, heartbeat, motivation, contraction of muscles, and natural urges.

    • Relays all sensory input to the brain, motor functions.

    • Governs nervous system.

    • Qualities of Vāta

      • Dry

      • Light

      • Rough

      • Astringent

      • Clear

      • Mobile

    • Vāta is everywhere in the body has some principal locations. These include:

      • The colon, brain, ears, bones, joints, skin and thighs. Vāta dominant people are more susceptible to diseases involving the air principle, such as emphysema, pneumonia and arthritis. Other common Vāta disorders include flatulence, tics, twitches, aching joints, dry skin and hair, nervous disorders, constipation, and mental confusion. Vāta in the body tends to increase with age as is exhibited by the drying and wrinkling of the skin.

        Since the attributes of vata are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear, any of these qualities in excess can cause imbalance. Frequent travel, especially by plane, loud noises, continual stimulation, drugs, sugar and alcohol all derange Vāta, as does exposure to external cold and cold food and drink.


Dosha

The three doshas form the very basis of existence of the body according to Ayurveda. The dosha possess the capacity to impair the normal state of other bodily elements (the dhātu, upadhātu and the mala) in the body. The dosha, in their balanced state, are responsible for sustenance of life and the normal functioning of the body.

Vāta

Vāta is regarded as the most important of the three doshas. If it is left unbalanced it will cause the other doshas to become imbalanced. On the most basic level it is comprised of air and ether. Some of the roles it plays in the body include:

  • All eliminations: fetus, semen, feces, urine, and sweat.

  • Movement - heartbeat, respiration, contraction of all muscles, and natural urges

  • Assists - in Metabolisms (Agni) of the body as well as transformation of dhātus

Vāta permeates throughout the entire body but has some principal locations. These include:

  • Colon * main site

  • Bladder

  • Bones

  • Waist

  • Thighs

  • Legs

Gunas (Qualities) of Vāta:

  • Light

  • Rough

  • Dry

  • Astringent

  • Clear

  • Mobile

*Understanding the gunas and the sites of the doshas help in knowing the common signs and symptoms of an imbalance of dosha

Pitta

Pitta is closely related to agni, the transformative process behind all metabolic activity in the body as well as the fire of intelligence. On the most basic level it is comprised of fire and water. Some of the roles it plays in the body include:

  • Metabolism – from the gross digestion of food to the subtle digestion of stimuli and of all other material.

  • Vision

  • Complexion

  • Comprehension

  • Short term memory

Pitta again is spread throughout the entire body but has its principal locations. These include:

  • Small intestine * main site

  • Eyes

  • Skin

  • Liver

  • Blood

  • Sweat Glands

Gunas (Qualities) of Pitta:

  • Hot

  • Sharp

  • Oily

  • Liquid

  • Light

*Understanding the gunas and the sites of the doshas help in knowing the common signs and symptoms of an imbalance of dosha

Kapha

Kapha is the grossest of the three doshas. It provides the structures and the lubrication that the body and mind need. Some of the roles it plays in the body include:

  • Growth

  • Lubrication for the joints and lungs

  • Formation of all the seven dhātus

  • Long term memory

Kapha as well as the other doshas are part of every cell of the body but its principal locations are:

  • Stomach

  • Chest

  • Head

  • Joints

  • Nose

  • Meda

  • Tongue

*Understanding the gunas and the sites of the doshas will help in knowing the common signs and symptoms of an imbalance of dosha


Dhātu

Dhātus are the building blocks which give structure and strength that help sustain the normal functioning of the body. Unlike dosha, they do not have a capacity to vitiate other elements in the body. These are comparatively more bulky than the dosha, and hence form the main mass of the physical body. There are seven dhātu namely, rasa, rakta, maamsa, meda, asthi, majja and shukra always mentioned in this same sequence. This sequence is based on the order in which they are produced and the order in which they receive their nutrition from the āhāra rasa. In the list below I will include the loose translations that are comparable when put in a Western context of the body. However, I do want to preface it with saying that they are not entirely accurate and limit the understanding of the dhātus. They do help us in a beginners understanding though. For example, Rasa is seen translated as lymph. This is not accurate because Rasa Dhātu is much more then this. Lymph is limited to flowing in a one way direction back to the heart where as all dhātus are everywhere in the the body. It can be correlated with, but not limited to, Rasa Dhātu due to its similarity in terms of function, appearance, and circulation. This type of differentiation can taken for all the translations of each dhātu but we will not get into that here since these are just the basics being given

Functions

  • Rasa - (Lymph) - Nourishes all the bodily elements and replenishes them.

  • Rakta - (Blood) - Imbibes and sustains life in all the bodily elements.

  • Māmsa - (Muscles) - Drapes the body giving it built and strength.

  • Meda - (Fat) - Provides lubrication, with its unctuous guna, to all bodily structures.

  • Asthi - (Bones) - Provides basic framework, stability and strength.

  • Majja - (Bone Marrow & Nerve Tissue) - Permeates the porous bones and provides sturdiness and stability.

  • Shukra - (Male semen/Female egg) - Procreation


Agni

Agni (digestive fire) is the heat energy in the body which helps transform the ingested food material into bodily assimilable form. Similar to the rice which is cooked when kept on fire and transformed into easily digestible form, the agni or digestive fire in the body helps transform or convert the ingested food and utilize it for the purpose of nourishment and growth. Agni itself is a representation in the body as Pitta. It goes into pitta and performs different functions. So each and every part of the body has agni The function of agni is transformation. Which means whatever exists outside of the body is transformed by Agni. Transforming the existing physical and chemical entity into a biological one. The texts state that the presence of Agni in the body is central to its existence and that death implies the extinguishing of this agni. The state of agni defines the state of health of an individual. Optimal digestive capacity is essential for proper digestion and assimilation of food material to provide ample nourishment to all the bodily elements like dosha and dhātu. Thus, vitiation of the agni, which in turn causes indigestion, also leads to imbalance of the dosha, thereby leading to ill health.


Āma

The food we take in, is acted upon by the digestive fire and converted to bodily assimilable form as well as waste by-product (mala). This process is known as digestion. This assimable form know as āhāra rasa provides nourishment to all of the dhātus. Any kind of anomaly in the process of digestion leads to the formation of improperly digested food material or āma. This āma circulates in the entire body along with the āhāra rasa and renders the āhāra rasa incapable of providing optimal nourishment to the dhātu. The incompletely or improperly digested āhāra rasa, which contains āma cannot be properly assimilated by the dhātu agnis. This leads to undernourishment or malformation of dhātu. Production of āma in the body is evident from the symptoms like sluggishness, heaviness in the body and indigestion. The accumulation of āma in the body leads to the production of malnourished and anomalous dhātu and marks the onset of disease. This is because the malnourishment of bodily elements impairs the normal functioning of dosha, dhātu and mala which will in time lead to a range of different diseases which affect the body and mind both.


Disease

Diseases are caused due to two main factors according to Ayurveda.

  • Āgantu (external) - Āgantu are the diseases caused due to external factors like injury, snake bite, ingestion of poisonous material etc.

  • Nija (internal) - Nija diseases are the result of imbalance of bodily dosha.

These can be broken down further into three main groups of factors that cause disease

  • Inappropriate and incongruous use of indriyas ( sense organs)

  • Improper diet and lifestyle/ unhealthy behavior due to distorted judgment

  • Effect of external factors like time on health 

Indigestion caused due to decrease in digestive capacity or impairment of Agni is one of the major causative factors of disease. According to Ayurveda, all of these factors can lead to imbalance in the normal state of the dosha rendering the doshas ineffective or unable to perform their normal functions. These vitiated dosha, which are already present in the body, may then get instigated by any of the external factors. This will lead to the onset of disease. Ayurveda states that apart from the factors which are caused due to external forces like injury, ingestion of poisonous material, etc. all the other diseases are a result of manifestation shown by vitiated dosha already present in the body. Thus, the triggering factors like pollen, pollution, pesticides, etc, work through the vitiated dosha for expression as a disease. This helps to explain our view on allergies. Ayurveda states that though allergy may appear to be caused by some specific external agent but we see it as the vitiated state of the dosha which is responsible for this. Hence, these allergies can be cured after setting right, the imbalanced state of the dosha in the body with administration of panchakarma therapies and other herbs. However, it should be remembered that the allergies which have been passed down through generations do require time and effort to get cured.

In the end Ayurveda sees the final cause of a disease is always the vitiated dosha.


Prakriti/Vikruti

The word prakruti is referring to your inherent constitution. Each of us was born with a unique combination of doshas present in our bodies. When we say vikruti we are referring to your current state and quantity of doshas in your body. The relative proportion of the dosha at the time of conception decides the prakruti of the fetus which remains constant throughout its life. Your constitution is also influenced by your parents' prakruti / vikruti, by your mother's diet and habits during her pregnancy, and by any abnormal events at the time of your birth.Where as your vikruti will vary through not adhering to seasonal changes, improper diet and lifestyle for your constitution, and a variety of other reasons. This constitution determines your physical and psychological make ups including health, disease, likes and dislikes, tolerance to different foods or environments, bodily structure, temperament etc. You can see that certain individuals are comfortable with warm temperature, some in colder environments, some are heavily built and strong, some lean and weak, some individuals display excellent digestive capacity, while others are very sensitive to changes in food habits, some tend to be calm and quiet, while others are anxious and angry. These variations in bodily tendencies and psychological inclinations are unique in each of us and are essentially an expression of individual prakruti or constitution. The most commonly observed prakrutis are the combinations of all three doshas and generally are not influenced by any single dosha. Each individual prakruti reflects a combination of characteristics influenced by any of the three dosha as per the level of their inherent predominance. Like for example the prakruti of vaata-kapha, vaata-pitta, pitta-kapha etc. No two individual prakrutis are the same which is one of the many reasons that Ayurvedas treatments for a person are custom and can not be under the opinion that one medicine or food is good or will work for everyone. The knowledge of the prakruti / vikruti of an individual is essential to plan the dietary regimen and daily routine as a measure to prevent the affliction of any disease. It also helps to understand the individual’s susceptibility to particular diseases.